It was inspiring to read at the weekend about Professor Dame Anne Dowling’s achievements as an engineer. Less inspiring to see she is the first woman to be appointed as President of the Royal Academy of Engineers but at least that taboo is now broken if not before time. Where are all the female engineers who should have been competing with the men for such a prize over the years?
Sadly we know that not only is there a shortage of highly qualified engineers in this country but there is a serious shortage of women in the profession. Let us hope that Professor Dowling inspires more young girls to take up engineering as a career. She is certainly a brilliant role model. Her piece written in 2011 said we could not afford to miss out on lots of talented girls. This is even more true now in 2014.
The problem is clear in microcosm in my work with University Technical Colleges (UTCs). Those specialising in engineering have to date small percentages of girls applying aged 14. They are addressing the issue in a variety of ways: female only open days, female role models as speakers such as Professor Dowling, female role models from their existing cohorts of students and staff presenting at events. They are going into local schools including primary schools to inspire all young people with the possibilities engineering offers as a career. They work with a variety of committed and excellent organisations all beginning with W and including WISE, WES, WiSET. The problem seems to be perception – that it is a boys’ career, that it is to do with things not people and teams, that you are outdoors mainly wearing a hard hat. This is not true. Parents too need exposure to the possibilities for their daughters offered by a degree in engineering.
I read in the Times yesterday that there is a chronic oversupply of law graduates who now cannot find positions. What a pity they did not realise that opportunities abound in the field of engineering for all young people and at least explore that option. Let us hope future generations do so and a good place to start is by visiting a UTC nearby.